«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
Cree scholar Shawn Wilson (2007) distills an “Indigenist research paradigm” in 11 principles, which include doing research 1) “[with] respect for all forms of life as being related and interconnected”; 2) “in a spirit of kindness and honesty [and] compassion”; 3) “that brings benefit to the Indigenous community”; 4) that “lie[s] within the reality of the Indigenous experience”; 5) that “recognize[s] that transformation within every living entity participating in the research will be one of the outcomes of every project”; and 6) that “recognize[s] that the languages and cultures of Indigenous peoples are living processes and that research and the discovery of knowledge is an ongoing function for the thinkers and scholars of every Indigenous group” (p. 195).
Lawrence and Dua (2005) detail how the erasure of Indigenous peoples and decolonization from theories about race and diaspora often work to position people of colour as “innocent” in white settler colonial projects: “Left unaddressed is the way in which people of color in settler formations are settlers on stolen lands. It ignores the complex relationships people of color have with settler projects. Although marginalized, at particular historical moments they may have been complicit with ongoing land theft and colonial domination of Aboriginal peoples. It distorts our writing of history; indeed, the exclusion of Aboriginal people from the project of antiracism erases them from history” (p. 132).
Drawing on Stuart Hall (1996), I understand interpellation as the ongoing constitution of persons qua subjects into subject positions through normative social relations that involve socially constructed categories of difference.
Hall describes interpellation in general terms as “the hailing of the subject by discourse” (p. 6) or “the ‘summoning into place’ of the subject” (p. 7).
Heller, Sosna and Wellbery (1986) note the staying power of this particular view of the subject and subjectivity:
“Some form of individualism—broadly conceived as the view that the individual human subject is a maker of the world we inhabit—has been a key factor in the life of the West for the last five hundred years. Modern definitions of the self and psychology, of ethical responsibility and civic identity, and of artistic representation and economic behavior all rest on the notion of an individual whose experience and history, whose will and values, whose expressions and preferences are essential constituents of reality” (p. 1).
Boyd’s (2004) theory of group-embedded subjectivity, when placed alongside that of liberal subjectivity, brings into view “more generalized, enduring, structurally manifested patterns of harmful human interaction identified loosely by the often-used labels of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘classism’, ‘heterosexualism’, etc.” (p. 4).
I understand the term psycho-affective to refer to the indeterminate ways—social, emotional, psychical and physical—in which subjects invest in social interactions to reproduce a stable sense of self.
Boyd (2004) also sees subjectivity as embodied, that is, as “a form of self-awareness and sense of agency that is constituted by the interaction of embodied persons and their interpretations of that interaction” (p. 4).
Although I do not properly incorporate affect theory into this study, I am increasingly interested in how it might lead to a different (perhaps richer) understanding of the interface between discourse, embodiment and subjectivity.
“Affect theory,” states Donovan Schaefer (2013), provides “the possibility of sliding together analytical tools used to pick apart both highly individuated and highly social contact zones—bodies and histories—as incarnated realities” (para. 2). I could begin with Schaefer’s (2013) review of Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness and Laurent Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (two prominent texts in the field). For Schaefer, affect theory is “about how systems of forces circulating within bodies—forces not necessarily subsumable or describable by language— interface with histories. It is about how discourses form ligatures with pulsing flesh-and-blood creatures” (para. 3).
That said, phenomenology as a discipline is arguably concerned with more than “overtly conscious phenomena”:
“Conscious experience is the starting point of phenomenology, but experience shades off into less overtly conscious phenomena.... [A]s psychoanalysts have stressed, much of our intentional mental activity is not conscious at all, but may become conscious in the process of therapy or interrogation, as we come to realize how we feel or think about something. We should allow, then, that the domain of phenomenology—our own experience—spreads out from conscious experience into semi-conscious and even unconscious mental activity, along with relevant background conditions implicitly invoked in our experience” (D. W. Smith, 2013, Section 2, para. 9).
Rather than assert a reified understanding of subject positions as outside of socially constructed meanings, or achievable as permanent, unchanging states of being, I see them as collectively constructed over time through subjects’ varying attempts to “occupy” or “perform” them. In this sense, Renée Bergland’s (2000) theorization of the “American mind” (see Chapter 5) is analogous; rather than posit the existence of “an American mind that can be psychoanalyzed., instead, [she uses] psychoanalytic and historical approaches to analyze the ways that individuals have tried to create an American mind, and, equally important, tried to make their own minds American” (p. 15).
Gary Gutting (2005) clarifies Foucault’s conception of the discursive limitations to a subject’s thought processes:
“At any given period in a given domain, there are substantial constraints on how people are able to think” (p. 32).
Gutting continues, “Foucault’s idea is that this level of [archaeological] analysis, of what is outside the control of the individuals who actually do the thinking in a given period, is the key to understanding the constraints within which people think.... [Foucault] thinks that individuals operate in a conceptual environment that determines and limits them in ways of which they cannot be aware” (p. 33).
Bacchi (2005) writes, “Distinct disciplinary understandings of the term discourse can be found in linguistics, anthropology, social psychology, sociology and politics. Discourse traditions include: conversation analysis, Foucauldian research, critical discourse analysis and critical linguistics, discursive psychology, Bakhtinian research, interactional sociolinguistics and the ethnography of speaking. There is also internal dispute about the meaning of the term discourse within some of these traditions” (p. 199).
For an overview of the field of critical discourse analysis (CDA), see Jan Blommaert and Chris Bulcaen (2000), who conclude that “CDA is still burdened by a very ‘linguistic’ outlook, which prevents productive ways of incorporating linguistic and nonlinguistic dimensions of semiosis (apparent, for instance, in the very partial interpretation of Foucault’s ‘discours’ in Fairclough’s work)” (p. 461).
While a more in-depth description of Foucault’s genealogical method is beyond the scope of this study, it is interesting to note here that, according to Derek Hook (2005), “Foucault’s turn to genealogy stems largely from what he takes to be the inadequacy of other systems of [discourse] analysis” (p. 8).
Proximity-related discourses were among five transversal discursive formations that I identified as relating to women’s motivations for entering into solidarity. These five discourses, which both thread through and subsume a number of themes, are as follows: desire and emotion more broadly (desire is a thoroughly transversal discourse that marks other discourses; e.g., the desire to achieve social justice or proximity); proximity-related narratives;
responsibility/accountability; shared political analysis and social justice inclinations; and practical/strategic motivations. Importantly, these discourses themselves are often co-constitutive in participant narratives.
I gleaned additional insights into white women’s motivations for and investments in solidarity by evaluating responses to the question of whether or not they had been transformed (individually or collectively) by the work.
I include a broad range of intertwined desires and sub-discourses under the umbrella of proximity. Starting with the most frequently recurring, these sub-discourses are as follows: the desire to be accepted by or included in a Native community (including desires for forgiveness or validation); the desire to be healed or empowered, to be valued or gain a sense of purpose; an attraction to or appreciation of Native culture, tradition and/or spirituality (sometimes coupled with a scathing critique of Western societal lack); and the desire to learn or be challenged.
I have heard Justice Sinclair make this assertion in person on two public occasions (in 2010 and 2011). Since, I have heard him make similar statements in in the media (primarily CBC Radio).
This was a central message in Denis’s job talk that I attended at the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto on February 14, 2011.
In Chapter 3, I elaborate on my use of Ahmed’s concept of the fantasy of transcendence.
Chapter 3The Gendered Colonial Subject In this chapter, I draw on a range of literatures including postcolonial feminist, Indigenous feminist and critical race scholarship1 to advance a theoretical grounding for an analysis of intersubjective relations in the contemporary solidarity encounter. This study rests on the theoretical premise that solidarity encounters are colonial encounters, their intersubjective relations are overdetermined, although neither absolutely nor seamlessly, by colonial power relations. Consequently, I hold that settler colonial relations in Canada necessarily infuse the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women. I also argue that a central dynamic of settler colonial relations—a deeply entrenched (white) settler desire for legitimate (liberal) subject status—is in turn operationalized by a desire for proximity to the Indigenous Other. In light of the historical production of white women as the saviours of Other women, I suggest that the settler desire for proximity is also gendered. Importantly, an understanding of the (settler) colonial subject as modern liberal subject underpins my entire theoretical framework.
First, I turn to the historical production of the white settler/imperialist woman/feminist subject in (hierarchical) relation to her Indigenous Other. I provide a condensed review of the literature on white women’s participation in settler colonial/imperial projects from the nineteenth century onward. To reiterate, my main goal is to explore the ways in which white settler women/feminist subjects are constituted through the production of gendered colonial difference (inflected with other social differentiations such as class)—that is, as the saviours or helpers of Other women. I contend that this subject position, which is configured by casting white women as simultaneously subordinate and dominant, is extremely difficult to transcend. I also touch upon some of the specificities of the Euro-Canadian2 settler woman/feminist subject and/in the Canadian nation-building project. I end by taking up the relevance of Sara Ahmed’s (2000) notion of proximity as one mode of colonial encounter for exploring gendered colonial intersubjective relations at the micro level: the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women in Canada.
In exploring how the subject position “white settler/imperialist woman” was taken up by women/feminists3 in the colonial era (perhaps, more accurately, proto-feminists4), I set the stage for an analysis of the ways in which white women/feminists in the contemporary solidarity encounter comply with, resist and/or transgress the parameters of their subject position as settlers. This study’s central concerns are legible within this analytical framework: What have been the roles scripted for white women/feminist allies in the colonial encounter? How do white women/feminist allies negotiate these roles (i.e., subject positions) in the contemporary solidarity encounter? What happens when white women, through involvement in solidarity work, are confronted with the colonial foundations of their status as universal subjects and the hierarchical conditions of their feminist birthing—all based on their supposed superiority to more oppressed female Others? How can colonial scripts be re-written, and what would corresponding practices of non-colonizing solidarity look like?
As mentioned, my research relies on a sketch of the settler colonial subject as modern liberal subject, which coalesce around certain conceptualizations of freedom, autonomy, transcendence, self-consciousness and hierarchy (Saldaña-Portillo, 2003; Spivak, 1985; Yeğenoğlu, 1998).
Thus, a starting point for my analysis is that white settler women allies are “always already” positioned as liberal (read: self-determining, individualistic) subjects prior to entering the solidarity encounter. In this sense, I adhere to the supposition that colonialism and modernity are
mutually constitutive projects, a connection described by Yeğenoğlu (1998):
Enlightenment reason, resting on the belief of the irreconcilability of non-modern ways of life with Western models of progress, serves as the connecting tissue between colonial and modernist discourses. The signifiers of the project of the Enlightenment and humanism such as progress, modernization, and universalism have also functioned as legitimizing categories in the civilizing mission of colonial power. (p. 95)5 I argue that in “colonial modernity”6 the colonial subject is a modern liberal subject by default.
It follows that the modern liberal subject’s quest for autonomy, or “intense desire for selfproduction” (Schick, 1998) is laced with the colonial desire to control self and Other. And so, I begin with/in the “colonial present” (Gregory, 2004).
Solidarity Encounters in the “Colonial Present”